At this point, the debate around the health of rock music is a frankly boring one. Some old-timer will get wheeled out for an interview where he wearily shakes his fist, complains that the musical landscape doesn’t look exactly like it did when he was in his prime and declares the genre dead (looking at you, Gene Simmons). And then come the thinkpieces. Oh god, the endless, tedious thinkpieces.
But when a band like The Dirty Nil make the trip over from Ontario, Canada to play a pub in New Cross on a Monday night like it’s a sold out Wembley Stadium, it’s a reminder of the whole point of this entire thing. This is a band who are here for a good time, and if it also happens to be a long time, then great. Either way, it was a really fucking good time.
The band’s frontman, Luke Bentham, is cut from the same grubby cloth of rockstardom as the likes of Josh Homme, Joe Strummer and Paul Westerberg (whose ramshackle punks, The Replacements, are clearly a huge influence on this lot). But somewhere between their brief soundcheck and taking to the stage proper five minutes later, he’s donned a sequin-covered button-up with a massive lightning bolt emblazoned on the back.
On its own that might look a bit of a naff move, but when he’s strutting around the stage playing songs as massive as new single ‘Bathed In Light’, popping bubble gum at the crescendo of a guitar solo even the most cynical of onlookers would have to concede that this guy is just that cool.
Even the curveball opener of a punked-up cover of Metallica’s ‘Hit The Lights’ doesn’t feel out of place in their set, played with the same charm and snarl as any of their own material. Suddenly it makes total sense that this band have drawn plaudits supporting both The Who and the current-day touring arm of Black Flag.
Such is Bentham’s star appeal, in fact, that when playing a venue that has massive windows that look in from the street right at the stage as the New Cross Inn does, he captivates even those simply passing by. A stream of uninitiated onlookers pitch up outside the window for a chorus or two, including one dad (and his bemused-looking daughter) who ended up watching two or three songs, remarking, “That’s some singer!” before eventually peeling himself away. Not before getting the band’s name for future reference, though.
Those who do know the band already, however, are having an even better time. The ‘Nil are now armed with an array of anthems-in-waiting – or, as Bentham puts it with a wink and a smile from the stage, “future superhits”. Songs from forthcoming album ‘Master Volume’ are welcomed with enthusiasm, intrigue and a hell of a lot of dancing, while ‘No Weaknesses’ and ‘Zombie-Eyed’ from the back catalogue still hit just as hard.
A massive percentage of the crowd tonight seem to know every single word to the released songs, and the choruses are sung back at the band with levels of vigour and volume that shouldn’t really be attainable by just 200 people.
After closing on the brilliantly titled ‘Wrestle Yü To Husker Dü’, one thing is clear: Though a bar setting might suit their whiskey-and-weed-tinged ragers, venues this size simply won’t be able to contain this band for much longer. The Dirty Nil aren’t here to save rock’n’roll, but if the guitar apocalypse is coming, this lot are going to be throwing the best end of the world party around.
Words: Ryan De Freitas